In reading the novel Through the Arc of the Rainforest By Karen Tei Yamashita, I was struck by the similarities between the omniscient alien narrator known as “The Ball” all powerful “Orb” of The Familiar. Besides both being spherical objects, both serve as key functions of the narrative. In Yamshita’s novel, The Ball is an alien object attached to the head of the protagonist, Japanese rail worker Kazumasa. The orb narrates the entire novel from inside Kazumasa’s head, often providing commentary on the events that unfold in the plot. The Orb, on the other hand, seems to serve a similar function but works from the background of the narrative, threading through all the stories and seemingly providing the viewer with images from the past, present and future.
It is interesting to consider how both of these “characters” function in the narrative and what they mean in context of themes of assimilation of new technology into society. Yamashita’s novel criticizes industrial expansion and global exploitation of natural resources, and the ball functions somewhat as an intermediary between the natural and artificial worlds. The ball’s semi-omniscience serves to tie the narratives together into one coherent story. In the same way, The Orb functions somewhat as a bridge between the separate narratives of the novel. By allowing the viewer to virtually travel through time and space, it becomes the physical manifestation of omniscience. In both novels, these spherical omniscient objects function as magical-realist elements that elevate the narrative beyond the conventional human consciousness.
Reading this book has really gotten odd, honestly. There are so many different elements that are weird in the book that what appears to be going on is something straight from a G.G. Márquez novel.
For example, with Isandorno, we have a character who is a “practitioner of superstition without being superstitious.” This paradoxical statement along with the telling of his story in Veinte Pesos is really reminiscent of a dream sequence in a magical realist genre-ed book. Why the random animals (donkey and goat)? Why climb a pyramid? What does he mean by “What hunts you now you already own”? One critic said of magical realism, “If you can explain it, it isn’t magical realism.” So, I’m not really positing that this is magical realism, but it very well could be. Magical realism, too, is a practice in much of Latin American literature. (It is derived from the folklore of the region from which it comes–almost like the epic tradition from Homer to Virgil to Milton and then Eliot).
Magical realism acknowledges animals with spiritual significance, contains lots of metafiction, real world setting with unworldly events treated normally, and a mysterious tone — all things possibly present here.
I’m just posing questions here, honestly. I’m curious as to what exactly is pulling these characters out into the rain–what the rain represents–why the creation of a metafictitious device like a Narcon, and ultimately why write a 37-volume series about a girl who finds a kitten? I’m not confident we’ll get any answers too quickly — Danielewski doesn’t seem to function like that.